Surviving a tsunami of grief...

Barbara Gloudon

Friday, February 01, 2013

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POETIC LANGUAGE does not always come from poets. When a grieving law enforcement officer, mourning the killing of one of his colleagues by gunmen, invoked the imagery of terrible storm waves which creep upon the land and in a matter of moments, bring sudden death to unsuspecting thousands, he took his place among that select group blessed with the gift of imagery which we call poetry. In describing the reaction to his colleague's death he coined the poetic phrase "a tsunami of grief".

I doubt that Commander Anthony Lewis of the Special Constabulary Force in the parish of St Elizabeth, had poetry on his mind however, when he paid tribute to a fallen comrade whose life was taken from him in a confrontation with gunmen in the normally quiet community of Malvern. If ever there is a community deserving of poetic images it is Malvern - set high in the hills overlooking the Pedro Plains, facing the towering Don Figueroa mountains and with year-round cool weather setting it apart from the heat and the hassle which abounds elsewhere.

A civilised place, distinguished by the presence of educational institutions and spaces for contemplation, murder was the last thing on anyone's mind, until one night, aliens came to call...Constable Troy Foster was only 26 years old, but he did what he had to do in a gun battle with intruders who had come to rob and flee. By the time the gunfire ended, they had taken the life of the young man, "a model constable, soft-spoken, a keen listener and a dedicated worker", in the words of his superior officer who paid him the greatest compliment of all, "He was like a son I never had".

This poetic lament, recorded by veteran journalist Garfield Myers in last week's Sunday Observer, tugged at my senses. This time it was not someone accusing the Police of taking an innocent life. This time, it was the Police who lost. There were no public outbursts of sympathy, no cries for justice. When Police personnel fall victim to the gunman's weapon, it is left to his colleagues and his family to deal with "the tsunami of grief". When the fallen one left behind had a record of exemplary service, the loss is felt even more.

The slaughter of the young law officer was not protested by justice-demanding mobs or organised crusaders. There are no accounts that Special Constable Troy Foster acted outside the law or that he betrayed public trust. He was upholding the law in a community which, until recently, may never have imagined that such a sacrifice would have had to be paid for their safety. Unfortunately, simple trust and quiet faith are no longer enough to ensure a sound night's sleep. Sadly, the enemy comes now from within and without.

As news of Constable Foster's death became known, the Malvern Police was deluged with messages of condolence, from at home and away, creating the "tsunami of grief", which Commander Lewis articulated. The flood was not only about respect but regret for the loss of innocence, the devaluing of life. When the adjective "peaceful" no longer identifies a community, then the criminal tide is a threat to everyone.

ANOTHER SIDE TO THIS STORY: I was born in Malvern and spent my earliest years there until, for economic reasons, my parents moved to the city and I became a Kingstonian by default. I still have my Malvern memories, however short they are. On the all too infrequent times when I get a chance to return, I still associate the community with peace and civility, the hallmark of that special place we used to call "country".

"Country people" prided themselves on being different from citizens of "Killsome" as an elder member of my country family declared our nation's capital. Manners, respect, kindness, that differentiated Country from Town were already disappearing. There were thieves and the occasional murderer in Country, but that was long ago, when most people lived "deestant lives," fearing God and loving neighbour. Today, Country suffers from the same terrors as Town, no longer sleeping with its doors open, but fortified by burglar bars. Fast roads take us home to country quicker but also make it easier for the wicked to get there in time to rob and flee.

Only the delusional could imagine that the tranquility of Country would always remain the same, but not even the most vivid imagination could have conceived the extent of criminal savagery which is now no respecter of boundary lines. Even more sadly, Country is embracing some of the ugliness too...and yet, all is not lost. Good is still to be found. Compassion still lives. Country and Town continue to have persons with the heart to grieve when another falls. Not every citizen of this nation is a killer. Not every one has forgotten what it means to be civilized. It is at times like these that we have to be grateful that the poetic spirit emerges where least expected, helping us to survive the tsunami of grief.

IN THE LAND OF HOW COME (where we now live), there is no shortage of questions to be asked. They come easy, but the answers are not as quickly found. We ask them anyway. So, here goes...HOW COME?

a) WHO WERE THE BARE-FACED THIEVES, bold enough to invade the premises of a veteran politician (the formidable Mr Pearnel Charles) and make off with a metal table and chairs from his verandah, in time for the resumption of the scrap metal trade, the very next day? He said this is another in a series of encounters with Scrapper-robbers. Dare we ask, what are the cops doing and aren't public officials supposed to have security?

b) WHY ISN'T THE POLICE arresting and taking before the court the marauding band of young men who have been terrorizing with robbery, assault and disorderliness, communities in mid-St Andrew, including New Kingston and the so-called Golden Triangle? The invaders are being identified more by their sexual preferences than their criminal behaviour, but since when has sexual orientation determined how wrong-doers are treated? Lock dem up! Spare the moralizing and let the law take its course and quickly too.

c) WHAT GOLDEN TRIANGLE? There will not be much "goldenness" left if there is no assessment of the impact of apartment blocks, spilling over into the revered older neighbourhoods, disfiguring their historic value. As for the creeping commercialization, surely that was not envisioned when the dream of an upscale real-estate Utopia was being touted. Whatever happened to zoning?

d) WILL THE AUTHORITIES keep up the pressure to control pedestrian-indiscipline at Half Way Tree Square and elsewhere - or will people be allowed to joke it out, like what happened when the new scheme was launched this week? We're serious, right?

e) WHOSE TREES? So, we're looking to make a fortune exporting charcoal. From whose trees? To whom do our forests and our heritage belong? Who gave permission for large-scale coal-burning? Isn't the environment suffering enough already? So, what if the coal could earn "farrin money?" How can dollars replace a tree? Why aren't the environmental watchdogs barking about this one? How come?




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